Unproductive investments that harm the world

2011-12-13

in Canada, Economics, Law, Politics, Rants, Security, The environment

Since the 2008 credit crunch, the governments of the world have been obsessed with economic conditions: trying to find ways to increase growth, improve the stability of the financial system, and cut unemployment. All other societal projects have taken a back seat. Given reasonable concerns about the economic future of the world, it seems like common sense to say that governments and societies should be investing their wealth and effort into things that will yield a beneficial return in the future. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the course Canada is following. We are making big investments in things that are bad for our own economic health, and even worse for the world at large.

Take the F-35 stealth fighter jets. They have no conceivable use. Canada is not going to war with any country that is capable of shooting down lesser jets, at least at any time in the foreseeable future. In the longer term, the jets still look useless, as it is increasingly clear that the age of manned combat aircraft is ending. Canada is spending tens of billions of dollars on weapons we do not need now, and which will probably be obsolete long before they go out of service. We should just skip this generation of killing machines, and perhaps invest later if some credible threat to Canadian security actually emerges.

The new crime bill is an even worse example of putting good money to counterproductive uses. There is no crime epidemic that requires a government response. There is no evidence that imprisoning more people will reduce crime below the already-low level where it is now. Indeed, the only things we can be sure about is that imprisoning people for longer will do more to wreck their chances of living a productive life, while harming their families and communities.

The oil sands may be the biggest example of Canada’s misplaced priorities. Look at the big picture. There are two possible futures for the world:

  • A world where we do nothing about climate change, and warming of well over 4˚C takes place
  • A world where we wake up and begin the process of aggressively phasing out fossil fuels

The first possibility is a suicide pact. We would probably be condemning the world to radically destabilizing climate change, with sea level rise of many metres, dramatic changes in precipitation patterns, and enormous human suffering as a consequence. In the second possibility, there is no place for an industry like the oil sands. Indeed, unconventional oil and gas production serves only to lengthen humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels. The smart investment is figuring out how to live on carbon-neutral sources of energy. Spending billions of dollars on an industry that will either be dismantled soon or will persist as a witness to a burning planet doesn’t make either economic or moral sense.

Even if Canada never wakes up and takes the obligation to address climate change seriously, it is quite possible that the rest of the world will do so. The people who say that oil sands extraction are inevitable are the same people who said that the Keystone XL pipeline was a sure thing. As people become aware of the dangers of climate change and the ethical imperatives that flow from them, they will be less and less inclined to invest in the suicidal fossil fuel industry, and less and less willing to buy its lethal products. The billions Canada is investing in fossil fuel infrastructure may end up rusting unused. Leaving the Kyoto Protocol is just one indication that Canada is out of step with the international community, and risks becoming an international pariah based on its selfish focus on fossil fuel profits.

There are so many things we could be spending money more usefully on. We could be investing in the skills and training of the Canadian workforce. That would be a sensible recognition of how global patterns of trade and production continue to change. We could be investing in sustainable infrastructure: buildings, transport links, power generation and storage facilities, and an agricultural system that can function without fossil fuels. We could be investing in assistance to those who are suffering from extreme poverty, both in Canada and around the world, as well as those who struggle with serious mental illnesses.

Canada can make smarter choices, not to mention choices that cause less needless harm. We just need to think a bit more about what sort of world we want for our children and examine whether our current priorities are aligned well with those goals.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Anon December 13, 2011 at 9:21 am
Anonymous December 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm

“Take the F-35 stealth fighter jets. They have no conceivable use. Canada is not going to war with any country that is capable of shooting down lesser jets, at least at any time in the foreseeable future. In the longer term, the jets still look useless, as it is increasingly clear that the age of manned combat aircraft is ending. Canada is spending tens of billions of dollars on weapons we do not need now, and which will probably be obsolete long before they go out of service. We should just skip this generation of killing machines, and perhaps invest later if some credible threat to Canadian security actually emerges.”

Couldn’t have been said better.

oleh December 15, 2011 at 5:43 am

Earlier I expressed my opposition to building more penitentiaries to house more prisoners.

I share Anon’s opinion that the comments regarding the F35 stealth fighters could not have been better said.

In general, military expenditure is wasteful especially when we live in a world where governments must be more fiscally responsible.

Anon December 15, 2011 at 4:24 pm

There are also billions being spent on new warships.

oleh December 16, 2011 at 12:37 am

28 billion being spent on new warships and armaments, although that includes a Caost Guard which does serve a function.

fanpyre December 25, 2011 at 10:24 am

How much kick-back these federal ministers have got? Anybody’s guess?

Anon December 25, 2011 at 6:39 pm

I think they honestly believe that climate change is nothing to worry about and that economic growth is the most important thing for the future of Canadians.

Anon December 25, 2011 at 6:40 pm

That said, I am sure a few senior government figures will end up with lucrative positions on the boards of oilsands connected companies once they retire from public life. (Prentice already did.)

Byron Smith January 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Good summary of an important issue. If governments are keen to cut “wasteful spending”, then these are the kinds of things that ought to jump to mind, not education or (smart) infrastructure projects.

. May 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Ottawa should halt its smear campaign against pipeline detractors

Environment Minister Peter Kent’s unsupported accusations of “money laundering” involving foreign and Canadian environmental charities are part of an apparent campaign of the Conservative government to smear and intimidate groups opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Mr. Kent’s accusation in Parliament and media interviews, and the pattern they are a part of, suggest the government is improperly taking sides between the environment and business – trying to discredit those who raise environmental concerns in a public-hearing process mandated under federal law.

. May 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Pull environment from budget bill: opposition and activists
CTVNews.ca Staff

The federal Conservatives are being targeted by the Official Opposition as well as environment groups gunning for changes to legislation in the government’s omnibus budget bill now before Parliament.

A range of groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, launched an ad campaign Monday called “Black Out, Speak Out” that urges Canadians to darken their websites June 4.

A full-page newspaper ad with a black background published Monday reads: “The future of our land, water and climate are at risk . . . and so are the voices of Canadians.”

“Silence is not an option.”

Activists claim the Tories have declared “war on democracy and the environment” accusing the government of weakening the country’s environmental safeguards.

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